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With America’s Cup coming, KKMI wants to return port to glory

[caption id="attachment_33021" align="alignright" width="360" caption="The KKMI Sausalito boatyard, built on toxic waterfront, is state-of-the-art and EPA-compliant"][/caption]

SAUSALITO -- A new broom on the Sausalito waterfront wants to sweep new, boat-friendly development into place in time for America’s Cup race spillover.

Paul Kaplan, owner of KKMI in Point Richmond and a brand new state-of-the-art boat service and sales facility in Sausalito, isn’t alone.

Local business leaders see the approaching cup race and accompanying sailing fever as an opportunity to showcase the city as a global destination for tourists by land and by sea.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse Sausalito’s image as the most boat-unfriendly port in the West,” said Mervyn Regan, president of Sausalito-on-the-Waterfront.

He and other waterfront boosters have been beaten back over the years by residents leery of looming condos or carnival-like development. Mr. Kaplan, flush with the success of his recent engagement with city planning and other permitting agencies, isn’t reluctant to speak out.

“Sausalito is home to world-class waterfront properties lying fallow. Yet during the ’60s and ’70s it was the sailing hub of the Bay. What happened? It became a bedroom community and lost its maritime focus. We need to get it back.”

Lots of the waterfront is contaminated, he conceded, due to the city’s former shipyards. But Mr. Kaplan doesn’t see that as a major obstacle. His own new boatyard is a shining example of cleanup.

“We leased former shipyard property so our single largest challenge was remediation. But since our landlord had approached KKMI in the first place, proposing that we replace an operation that went out of business, he was amenable to paying for it,” he said.

In return KKMI located its operation on previously unusable land and left its predecessor’s offices for the landlord to rent out to others.

KKMI itself installed a seawall to keep out frequently flooding Bay water, a wall that performs the additional function of keeping runoff water from entering the Bay. The yard was named “Facility of the Year” by the California Water Environment Authority.

With the only fully compliant yard in Sausalito, and one of only a dozen or so yards in the entire Bay Area, Mr. Kaplan foresees a busy future, especially when the boating scene gets a shot in the arm from the America’s Cup race in 2013.

He’s actively promoting the opportunities with committees like the Richmond AC34 and the Sausalito Mayor’s Task Force AC34, both formed to ready communities for the thirty-fourth America’s Cup.

According to Jim Gabbert, chairman of the Sausalito committee, the city is a prime viewing spot, with unobstructed views of the Bay between the Bay and Golden Gate bridges.

“We need to develop mooring sites in Richardson Bay. We need slips and mooring for super-yachts -- boats over 100 feet. We also have to prepare for auto traffic. We could be overwhelmed by visitors,” said Mr. Gabbert.

In addition to preparation for the event itself, plans must be made to hold the spotlight on the region afterwards, he said.

He pointed to Auckland, New Zealand, which used the attention it received from the America’s Cup to turn itself into a global tourist attraction.

“Our committee has representatives from the business, residential and maritime sectors. If we can overcome our differences and work together we’ll benefit everybody,” he said.

But what about long-term development? According to Mr. Kaplan, a city like Sausalito has far more waterfront property than boatyards, boat builders and yacht sales business can fill.

“But development can be water-oriented and attract non-boaters as well,” he said.

He cited facilities like Rybovich Marina in Palm Beach, a complex with boat building, sales and repairs, a swimming pool, exercise facilities, cafes, shops, ”everything to keep an entire family happy and occupied while Dad works on his boat.”

Twenty-one Jack Brewer Marinas, up and down the East Coast, have playgrounds and tennis courts.

“Now is the time for investors to step up. Of the estimated $1.4 billion economic boost expected for the region, and some say it could be as much as $25 billion overall, my guess is about $400 million will go to the boating industry.

“And remember, if Larry Ellison (CEO of Oracle) wins, the Bay could be the America’s Cup venue for years to come.”

KKMI Pt. Richmond happens to be Larry Ellison’s boatyard of choice for his single-hull yachts. Currently a friend of Mr. Ellison’s is having KKMI refit a prior America’s Cup winning boat to take tourists out on the Bay.

“That’s an example of money being spent now to make money during the racing events,” said Mr. Kaplan.